UTOEYA, Norway (Reuters) - The island is now eerily silent and bedecked in autumn colours, but bullet holes still pockmark the walls of a cafeteria where Norwegian confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik fired on his young victims.
Journalists were permitted for the first time on Monday to visit the tiny, heart-shaped island owned by the Labour Party youth organisation, where 69 people died from gunfire and drowning after a bombing in central Oslo took eight lives in the July terror attacks.
Several bullet holes marked the interior of a cafeteria building where many youths were killed trying to barricade themselves against Breivik as he fired from an automatic rifle before moving on to other parts of the island.
Labour Party youth leader Eskil Pedersen said the building, the island’s largest, would likely be razed as part of a plan to “reclaim” the island for young activists.
“Probably the largest building on the island will be torn down and rebuilt... because a lot of terrible events happened there,” Pedersen told Reuters on the island.
The visit to the island coincided with expressions of regret from Norwegian authorities over their handling of the terror attacks on July 22 that killed 77 people.
“All of us, including I, must express regret for mistakes,” Justice Minister Knut Storberget told the daily Aftenposten in the clearest acknowledgement by the government to date that some criticism of the police response was justified.
The harshest criticism has centred on the hour it took police to apprehend Breivik after the first reports of gunfire on Utoeya island, 40 km (25 miles) north of Oslo, where more than 500 Labour Party youths were at summer camp.
Breivik confessed to both the island shootings and the Oslo bombing, which he intended as punishment of the Labour Party for backing Muslim immigration.
Storberget took responsibility for official “shortcomings” after the attacks, including incorrect information the police gave to some victims’ families, but said he had no plans to resign.
Plans are afoot to build a monument to those who died on the island, so small it took just 10 minutes to walk from end to end. Martin Henriksen, a former Labour youth chairman who helps administer Utoeya, said 32 million Norwegian crowns have been raised to refurbish island amenities and create the monument.
“It’s not so much the physical damage as the emotional weight that is difficult to manage,” he said.
During more than 75 hours of police questioning Breivik has expressed no regret, and investigators said they still believe he acted alone.
Police is Oslo say they want to interview Alan Lake, whom they believe is a key figure in Britain’s anti-Islamist English Defence League EDL.L, to find out if he may have been an ideological source of inspiration to Breivik.
“Alan Lake is an obvious person we would like to speak to,” Oslo police prosecutor Paal-Fredrik Hjort Kraby told Reuters.
He added: “At this point in the investigation there is no indication that anyone knew about his (Breivik‘s) plans.”
The English Defence League said in an email to Reuters that Lake had “absolutely nothing to do with the EDL”. Lake could not be reached for comment but has previously denied being a senior member of the EDL.
Writing by Walter Gibbs; Editing by Roger Atwood